As California faces a summer of rolling blackouts, the anarchist strategy around the alleged “energy crisis” is clear: we like rolling blackouts! The more the better! The longer the better! How about permanent blackouts!
Just think for a moment about what a blackout really means for community, for democracy, for decentralization, against corporations and capitalism, and for the earth. Most of the things hurting the world need the electricity grid to function:
- Television Stations
- Police, armies and prisons
- The auto traffic system
- Security cameras and surveillance
- Factory Farming and toxic industries
- Chainstores and consumer society
- ATM machines and credit cards
- Global corporate computer networks
In contrast, imagine what still works great without a single, fossil fuel-powered watt:
- You can still talk to a friend
- You can do creative stuff: play guitar, paint a picture, dig in the garden
- You can ride your bike or go for a walk
- You and your friends can organize a collective to provide for the necessities of life
- You can make love with no interruptions from the phone
- You can enjoy the stillness after the sun goes down when orange/purple light lingers in the west, and not worry about missing your show on TV or all the work from the office you were going to go through under a bare light bulb, late into the night.
Without the electricity grid, there is immediately more freedom, more face-to-face community and direct democracy, and more harmony with nature. Bikes whiz around SUVs caught in a failed-traffic-light gridlock. Acoustic music rings out from candle-lit communal housing while yuppies can’t get through to their stock brokers on their cell phones or get food from High Tech Burritos™ and Whole Foods™.
Bureaucracy, hierarchy and authority all require the centralized, fossil-fueled power grid, but direct democracy, face to face voluntary organization, mutual aid and small, local collectives all function great without the electricity grid. If folks decide it’s necessary, bits of electricity can be generated locally for local use with solar or wind power.
The hype surrounding the “energy crisis” is overwhelming, but it tells you the rulers are worried.. And that’s pretty satisfying, because they don’t often get worried, or at least they don’t often admit it. When the lights go out, the rulers lose control. Worse yet, they become irrelevant. If there’s no electrical grid, they can’t watch and manage you, and you don’t “need” them. In fact, without television and their constant intervention and repression, you might not even know they exist. Rulers hate being irrelevant.
Because of the prevalence of ATM machines and credit cards, when the electricity goes out, money itself practically ceases to exist. You can’t buy and they can’t sell. The most crucial activity of the whole earth-eating machine falls strangely silent.
When complex, national systems like the power grid fail, people get the chance to see that they can function just fine, thank you very much, with the simple things in life, without the bureaucracy and control the rulers claim is necessary “for your own good.”
The industrial revolution, followed by the plastic age, followed by the high-tech revolution haven’t exactly caused mass elated happiness amongst the populace. Comparing a boring, controlled life of toil, consumption and isolation (run by electricity) against the real, lived experience of direct community and harmony with nature, the population may decide they want the electricity kept off.
Imagine if the blackouts lasted longer than an hour. Instead of office workers sitting around bored waiting for their computers to come back on, they would to start thinking about other better ways to occupy and organize their time. Talking together would lead to empowerment and questioning the techno-corporate order.
Blackouts are a tremendous opportunity for organization, mass education, agitation and action. As this is written, a significant discussion amongst the rulers is whether they should offer any warning before power is shut off in a rolling blackout. Proponents of warning argue it would permit companies to start back-up generators and avoid “data loss.” The main argument against advanced warning is that criminals would use this information to go on a rampage.
Hearing this, it’s hard to picture your typical burglar planning their schedule and their target community so rationally. Clearly, what the government is really worried about is the anarchists! For example, a rolling blackout in San Jose, given enough warning and planning by Food Not Bombs, etc., might lead to a full-on insurrection. Rolling blackouts aren’t a problem-they’re a treat and an opportunity! Like an accidental, government/corporate created temporary autonomous zone!
Our house is already experimenting with blackouts to get used to them and be ready for the tremendous opportunities blackouts bring. We started by turning the power off for a few hours, then trying it for a few days. It’s easy to do. Find the master circuit breaker in the basement and you can turn off the whole house at once!
We suggest putting together “rolling blackout kits” and distributing them around the neighborhood along with some good anarchist texts about mutual aid, how to organize an affinity group, etc. Kits could include everything you need to really enjoy a blackout: a candle and a good book, condoms, lube and a vibrator (solar), spooky stories for telling after dark, a frisbee, magic mushrooms, and pen and paper for plotting revolution and/or how to demolish the eco-wrecking corporations in the neighborhood.
There are also good games you can play and excellent alternative spectator sports you can watch during a blackout. Go out to the corner to play “watch the SUVs trying to get through the gridlocked intersection.” You sit on the sidewalk eating popcorn and score the contestants with number cards like at a diving meet. The grand prize is awarded when everyone abandons their SUVs, their computer office jobs, their isolated air conditioned lives and re-learns how to live free.